Search Engine Confidential

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Reader Brian Beck passes along the story of Dan Peng, a Princeton student facing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit from the Recording Industry Association of America. Peng ran a website that made it easier to find music (and other files) online; therefore, the RIAA argues, he was facilitating the illicit exchange of copyrighted material.

Similar suits were filed this week against three other students at two other universities. According to the RIAA, their sites were "local area Napster networks" that were "designed to enable widespread music thievery." A kinder observer might describe them as fancy search engines—and might wonder just what sort of precedent will be set if the suits are successful.

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  1. Every freakin’ search engine on the net makes it easier to find music (and other files) online. Where’s the outrage there?

  2. Perhaps it’s best to register outrage by contributing to a defense fund for the students. Seems pretty obvious to me that RIAA is aiming at maximizing their chances of success by suing the shallowest pockets. Frightful prospects for anybody doing something a rich organisation doesn’t like. How many of us can even afford a defense lawyer’s retainer?

  3. I see the RIAA is taking a page from the NSDAP playbook, and going for a “frightfulness” strategy.

  4. So when are the protesters going to stop bellyachin’ about Iraq and rise up against the RIAA? They seem far more of a threat to our freedoms and liberties than Bush & Co. will ever be.

  5. The reports surounding this are pretty confusing, most make it sound like the students were hosting hundreds of thousands to millions of files on their computer. Of course, this is a bit silly, since anyone who knows alittle about computers could figure out that would take several terabytes of storage space at least. Making it easier to find material that other people are hosting is another matter all together…

  6. For an example of an album that was released on the net then did great when it was finally released check out Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is the shape of things to come. Bands won’t need record companies anymore. All record companies do is make little discs of plastic and build up a lot of PR about it. The discs of plastic are nearing obsoletion and the PR isn’t necessary if bands can sell fewer records and keep more of the profits. Bands make pennies for every CD they sell. If they can get a bigger chunk of that money they won’t need to be huge hits. The only thing stopping this now is the orgy between radio stations and labels. Unfortunately most stations are on their knees in front of the labels. The public mostly buys what they hear on the radio. This is slowly changing though. The big radio networks are becoming obsolete too.

  7. If we needed any proof after the Napster debacle, we now have it that record company execs are not only business-strategy idiots, but technological imbeciles.

    Instead of thinking about how their products should be improved (reasonable pricing and “added value” come to mind), they simply sue. After Napster, they just got new software that do the same thing more privately. By suing this poor Peng guy, they will just encourage the computer literate to do the same thing Peng did, but more secretly.

    Personally, I am looking forward to the day big record companies go out of business. The many small companies that are certain to spring up to fill the gap are certain to provide more varied and better music.

  8. What makes this case even more ridiculous is the fact that file sharing over a local area network can take place with or without the search engines under assault. All the search engines (such as the Phynd site that had been used at my school, the University of Connecticut) do is provide a means for a quick search, rather than forcing individuals to search through the shared files on the other computers of the network. It’s ridiculous, and I agree with Hank up above. I hope to see some protests against these threats to our liberty and privacy, and I hope to see them soon.

  9. I don’t know Frenk, I think the record executives are at least smart enough to see that they’re gonna be out of business in a hurry if they don’t rain on our parade. They could change, but it’s still more profitable for them to abuse us through the courts while trying to get regulations in place so they can have a stranglehold on the next thing to come down the pike also. They could work within the system, but with the way they’re going, they can just as easily own the system.

  10. Yes people have broken a law by downloading and offering music, however the punishment is sickenly excessive. You can break the law driving a car and if you have not physically injured someone or destroyed a lot of property you will not be fined more than a thousand dollars. Riaa no longer needs to be in the recording sales business it can make its money pursuing all the downloaders it can find. The government limits the responsibility of doctors but lets a large population of private citizens suffer Draconian punishment for listening to not selling, music.

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